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September 21, 2007

Some clarification of my CRN presentation and bad choices past and future limit gains from technology

The Register discusses the CRN conference, where I was one of the presenters

I need to correct some misunderstanding from a lack of clarity in one of my presentation slides.

Register person had stated I was saying molecular manufacturing would happen in 2015. My prediction for a nanofactory level of capability in molecular manufacturing is 2015-2023 If a lot of bad choices are made and the development work turns out to be surprisingly difficult then 2024-2030 is very possible. However, the almost molecular manufacturing capability will be getting better and better so I am not clear what would be preventing someone from bootstrapping to the full capability for the longer time frame.

One of my presentation slides gave the impression that societies energy problems would persist for decades after the arrival of full blown molecular manufacturing.
Energy, space and infrastructure problems which are some of the biggest problems now and will take the longest to fix, will potentially be very easy to solve after molecular manufacturing arrives. The expection is whatever ongoing bad choices we are making as a society can continue to prevent problems from being solved.

This is currently the case with many of todays problems. The technical capability has been available to solve energy and space access, however the collective choices made in different parts of society have prevented us from getting over the hurdles needed to implement solutions.

For example, corruption and violence in Africa prevents those countries from experiencing an economic boom similar to China and Vietnam and other countries.

The Africa-lite levels of corruption and violence in countries like the United States and Europe and China could prevent the full potential of molecular manufacturing from being realized. Just as current bad funding choices are delaying the development of molecular manufacturing.

The technology can enable the fixes. It is we who could continue to screw it up as we have up to this point under-utilizing possible solutions.

Technology, even powerful technology such as molecular manufacturing is not beyond the power of bad choices to screw it up. I am somewhat less concerned about the bad choices that could lead to extinction (although those are a concern) than I am about massive civilization underperformance. Massive civilization underperformance has been a persistent problem throughout history, which I would like to see reduced. Also, if it was reduced civilization would be more robust and better able to handle and prevent extinction risks as well.

We marvel at the 50 trillion world GDP (70 trillion a purchasing power parity basis). However, bad governance and bad choices throughout even relatively recent history have caused the underperformance of the world economy. China did not have to be a basketcase economy from 1900 to 1975 (and even from 1500-1900). India also could have started its climb out of poverty decades or centuries earlier. The people in India who cling to a stifling bureaucracy and the systems which encourage that behavior could have been removed and bureaucracy reduced sooner. The world economy could easily be two to three times bigger than it is now.

The United States could have been building nuclear plants for power without the 30 year gap. 400 more nuclear plants would have meant having the 80% French level of nuclear electricity generation. $300 billion/year in pollution and health costs could be saved. The reduced medical costs would make medicare more solvent and have reduced taxes and better balanced budgets. There would also have been fewer wars for oil.

Even the measurement of size of the world economy does not address how much useless busy work or destructive work there is. Using 40% of the railway and 10% of freight to move 1 billion tons in the USA of coal (6-7 billion tons worldwide) generates a lot of GDP activity. However, this is including a lot of destructive and unnecessary activity as a positive.

The lost opportunity cost from bad research and development choices and from research and development funding system inefficiencies are very high. Alan Shalleck discusses how the first few years and billions of dollars in nanotechnology budgets have gone to
establishing nanotechnology laboratory facilities, outfitting these laboratories with nanotech capable instrumentation, finding and recruiting nonscientists who were fascinated by the nanotechnology opportunity and funding basic nanoscience research.


There was no expectation of any nanotechnology product. There was no goal or plan by design. No stated goal means no standard of achievement to be held accountable No stated goal or objective meant that there could no specific genetically modified food controversy, because there would not be nothing made and no stated plans for production there could be no controversial impact. This is a systemic wasteful and underperforming behavior. My main hope and expectation is that increasing true competition from other countries will force more productive behavior and bolder efforts and plans.

I think there are some trends that will force a higher standard of competence and rational evidence based thinking. The flattening of the world and increasing global competition will mean less places for incompetence to persist and dominate. Open hypercompetition lets the winner win faster and prevents the idiots from letting screw ups persist.

The shape of the future will be decided by an ongoing battle between incompetence and selfish corrupt decision making versus super-technology and efficient and rapid assessment and analysis with evidence based choices.

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